Further Thoughts on the Trinity



I am a trinitarian in a faith community that is ambivalent about the Trinity. This is nothing new. Thomas and Alexander Campbell were trinitarians, but especially Alexander was loath to use the term. He offered up that it wasn't a biblical term, and had proven divisive.  Barton Stone, on the other hand, was fairly vocal in his rejection of the whole idea, finding it rather illogical. So this ambivalence became part of our denominational genetic material. While there is this ambivalence, I'm not alone in my trinitarianism. I can count two theologians of the preceding generation (both retired from teaching theology at Christian Theological Seminary).  Joe Jones and Clark Williamson have their theological differences, and I will count myself closer to Joe than Clark, but I have found both of them to be thoughtful and provocative theologians. 

In the course of working on a piece regarding the Trinity for a Disciples of Christ audience I found Clark Williamson's reflections on the Trinity in conversation with the story of the encounter of the three visitors with Abraham and Sarah at the Oaks of Mamre as pictured in Rublev's icon to be enlightening (Genesis 18:1-15). Clark draws on this story that emphasizes hospitality to suggest that “the Trinity is a communion of equal persons (coequal, the tradition liked to say), and we are invited into such communion.” He goes on to say:

We speak of God as one in order to make clear that God is not divided, not double-minded. We speak of God as three to affirm communion in God. Life is a blessing and well-being when all relations of domination and oppression are expelled. Communion among persons is the divine order and the intended human order of well-being. The fundamental intent of the doctrine of the Trinity is to protect an understanding of God as a profound relational communion. A relationship (not merely a relation) of authentic communion among God, human beings, and all God’s creatures is the aim of God’s work in the world. It also calls radically into question and theologically undercuts, although hardly defeats, all human political and social arrangements that would subordinate women to men, Jews to Christians (as Christendom did in many ways, not the least through canon and secular law), one race to another, two-thirds of the hungry world to the one-third that is comfortable.  [Williamson, Way of Blessing, pp. 126-127].

As Clark lays this out, not only is there differentiation within God's nature (thus God is not a solitary monad), but this is a communion of equal persons. This is not a hierarchy of persons. The question for us is this -- how might such an understanding of God, or better yet participation in the triune nature of God transform our own experiences of human community?  . 

Comments

John said…
I think that there a distinction to be made between what Williamson is lifting up and traditional Trinitarianism. What I see lifted up in the Williamson quote is the plural natur of divinity, this the featured relational nature of God, and not a nature of isolation. At the risk of yet another heresy, the plural nature of divinity suggests that God in is not complete without God's relational partners. Those partners may be co-equal (or not) branches of the traditionally understood Trinity or perhaps even the Hebrew Elohim. The point is that God is "more than" what humans conceive of God, and certainly more than some isolated, self-complete being suspended somewhere in a cosmos which transcends space and time.

Traditional Trinitarian is not that. Three in one. One in three. Not more, not less, each with a job to do, each with a distinct character. One human, one heavily engaged in the human reality, and the other more isolated and separate in its own transcendence. For me traditional Trinity evokes a kind of idolatry, a fetishizing of the symbols over the God which is supposed to be represented by the symbols. And worse yet, traditional Trinity has been enforced, as if the symbol itself were the thing to be worshiped. I just cannot accept the mandated worship of man-made theological symbols. Symbols are supposed to be helpful guides, intended to bring the worshiper into closer relationship with God, the symbol is not itself God. Traditional trinitarianism has often expressed itself by mandating worship of the symbol at the cost of sacrificing a genuine relationship with the God supposedly being symbolized.

As God is truly ineffable, then we need to be very careful about prescribing and mandating effigies.
Robert Cornwall said…
John,

I can't speak for Clark, so I only am sharing how I read him. There is much more to this in his book than this excerpt.

When we speak of the Trinity today, there are a number of ways of approaching the question. Clark and Joe Jones have different ways, Clark is more Process oriented, while Joe is more in line with Barth.

My point here is that the concept of Trinity, as shared by Clark, is that within God's nature there is differentiation, but there is also equality in the differentiation. It is interesting that Stone affirms Jesus' divinity, but not the Trinity, but in doing so he espouses a subordinationist view of Jesus, that can easily become a hierarchy. Alexander Campbell is Trinitarian in his thinking, but he too has a subordinationist view. This stands in contrast to more contemporary thinking, which highlights equality of persons within God's nature.

The doctrine of the Trinity is a theological construct (humanly devised) to make sense of the biblical testimony, and human experience with God. If we end up focusing on numbers, we've probably missed the point. Too often that is where we have gone. I think you would find Clark's vision very compelling.
John said…
I also think the "equality" is a contemporary Western value which in times past, and I think for God, does not possess much value. I honestly think that God is not at all concerned with measurement or with place or position, but instead with creation, nurture, compassion, and relationship. With respect to the value of "equality" on compassion and relationship I think two thinks stand out: equality is not all that important, if it were then we would spend all of our time determining whether we give and received too much, or too little; there is almost always an imbalance between the parties in relationships and in settings where compassion is being shared - and that is not only OK, it is integral to the giving and sharing. When we talk about creation and nurture, equality is meaningless. It is contemporary Western thought which idolizes "equality." Sure it has a civic value and humans experience oppression and spiritual deprivation when aspects of equality are denied to us. But Divinity is beyond oppression or spiritual deprivation.

ON a practical level, Jesus does not worry over whether he is providing the "other" with what they deserve, or with their fair share, of whatever is being given, or that he is receiving his fair recompense. Jesus is concerned that the "other" receives what they need, within the context of their situation. I believe that in Jesus' relationship with Divinity, Jesus does not engage in positional negotiations or struggle. Divinity simply is. Jesus is part of Divinity. There is no hierarchy, no "equality" to be measured or maintained, there is no negotiating place - Divinity is, and Divinity does, and Divinity will do what it will do. Divinity is the great I AM, or I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE.

With this understanding, when I hear about human imposing "equality" among the Divinity I just shake my head and stop listening.

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